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IIFYM: A Beginner's Guide to Calculating Your Macros

IIFYM: A Beginner's Guide to Calculating Your Macros

If you've been around the fitness community for a while, chances are you've heard the term "macros". But what exactly are macros and how should you calculate yours? Here's a beginner's guide to get you started.

What are macronutrients, anyway?

The three macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates and fats (some people say alcohol is a fourth macro, but that's a topic for another day). Every food you eat is made up of one or more of the three macros. And, if you're looking to lose weight, build muscle, gain strength or shed bodyfat, you need to know how much of each macronutrient to eat - and how to achieve those numbers.

Why do you need to calculate your macros?

Weight loss and muscle gain is mostly about "calories in vs calories out". If you consistently eat a greater number of calories than you expend, you will gain weight (body fat, muscle, or a combination of the two). And if you eat fewer calories than your body and metabolism need, you'll lose weight (again, body fat, muscle or both). But it's not just a calories game. Within those calories, it's also important to get the right balance of macronutrients: protein, carbs and fats, especially if you have a particular performance or body composition goal in mind.

How do macros relate to calories?

Here's where we need to get a bit mathematical (but don't worry, it's really not tricky). You need to know about the calorie content of each macro:

1 gram of protein = 4 calories

1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories

1 gram of fat = 9 calories

But hold up: we don't mean that 100g of a chicken breast is 100 grams of protein. It's not about the weight of the food, it about the gram of each macro within that food. Confused? Don't be. Simply read the label on the food, or (easier still), use an app or food tracker like myfitnesspal. You'll soon get to grips with the fact that (for instance) 100 grams of raw, uncooked chicken actually contains around 23g protein and 1g fat.

How can you start to hit your macros numbers?

Setting your macros is a matter of personal preference and lifestyle, but if you’re just starting out, a balanced approach is probably best, especially if you're active and looking to build or gain muscle. Your body needs all three macronutrients to function at its best.

When you start out tracking your macro numbers, aim for a 40/40/20 split. Take your ideal caloric intake (let's use 2000 calories per day). 40% of them should come from protein, 40% from carbs, and 20% from fats. For our 2000 calorie example, that would look like this:

800 calories from Protein (@ 4 calories per gram) = 200 grams

800 calories from Carbs (@ 4 calories per gram) = 200 grams

400 calories from Fats (@ 9 calories per gram) = 45 grams

For a total of: 2000 calories

Remember, that's 200/200/45 grams of the macronutrient, not the weight of the food you are eating.

To begin with, you’ll be spending a lot of time reading nutritional labels, staring at your macro tracker or app, and calculating carbs, but you'll soon get into the swing of knowing which of the foods you like contain the macros you need – without a second thought.

How you break up your macros throughout the day is up to you and depends on your activity, your training, your lifestyle and your job. The one thing that everyone seems to agree on though is that protein should be present in every meal or snack you have. Protein is king of macros!

the author

Nicola Joyce

Nicola Joyce is a full-time health and fitness copywriter. She is passionate about the industry as well as her own health and fitness. Nicola has swum the English Channel, competed in triathlons, endurance running and loves to lift weights. She is also a 2x WNBF/INBF World Champion, taking out the title of amateur female bodybuilder in 2014..

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